Wednesday, 22 July 2015


“What an awesome place is this!”  In other translations Jacob thinks it’s terrible.   Both have some truth.  The place was terrible.  It was barren.   No plants to shield him from the sun.  Nothing  to provide him with shelter for the night.  What a God-forsaken hole!

He was dog-tired! Only a few boulders on which to lay his weary head!  The wonder is that ever got a moment’s sleep. And yet he had an amazing dream.

Waking up, Jacob realised that this first impression had been completely wrong.  No longer did he see this place as being awful, terrible. How so?  As he slept he dreamt of angels ascending and descending a ladder between heaven and earth.  During this dream the Lord re-affirmed the covenant He had made with the Patriarch, Abraham.  His descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky, or the sand on the shore.  They would be His Chosen People.  He promised to give them their own land.

This dream, this vision, had changed his whole attitude to the stony, lifeless wasteland.  Most certainly a truly awesome one!  On waking he exclaimed,  "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it…How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven,"    (Gen. 28. 16-17).

Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical, ‘ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME’ is trying to implant  in us Jacob’s change in attitude towards what had at first seemed to him to be barren land in which he had to lay down to sleep.   The Pope wants all of us to develop a reverence for the world in which we live –and with that reverence, a sense of responsibility.

What inspires that reverence? That our world has been lovingly created by God. Each of His creatures, no matter how small or unprepossessing, expresses His creative love.   Each in its own way reflects something of His majesty; each in its own way gives glory to God, simply by being itself.

That is true of the earth’s vastly different environments, whether they be an exotic tropical island, the gentle pastel-tinted countryside of the U.K., the Sahara desert or the vast  expanse  of  ice in the Polar Regions. Each has its own unique beauty. And each patch of God’s creation provides its own special environment, supporting its local ecology of inter-dependence of living creatures. 

Pope Francis stresses that we disturb the balance of nature at our peril. The whole cosmos, and each of its parts is awesome, as, indeed, is the vast and varied inter-action of these many, countless parts. The whole  scenario  reflects  the awesome  glory and majesty of God…its Creator.

 Jacob came to realise God is to be found in the most unlikely of places, probably without His presence ever been recognized there!

The challenge for us is to re-discover a child-like sense of  wonder  at each of the parts within the whole  of God’s creation.   Without His continuous loving care His world would disintegrate into nothingness, and so would we; without our loving care, God’s beautiful world would descend into an ugly, empty wasteland.

He has, therefore,  given us, His  people, the privilege and responsibility of cherishing and caring for His creation. He’s given this to us, not just to use and use up, but to protect and develop for ourselves and for future generations.  If this is our world, it’s above all God’s; if this is our dwelling place, it is also His.

That is what Jacob realised.  This is the point Pope Francis strives to drive home.  The world we live in is not only wonderful, but sacred –because God has lovingly created it. And now He wants us to care for it, for His sake and for our own.

Pope Francis argues forcibly that we need to slow down, to rest and ponder if we are to appreciate the wonder of creation, which God has entrusted to us. Only on reflection will we see the threefold relationship between the creator God and ourselves, the pinnacle of His creation, and the world He has created for us.

 Only then will we see that it is meant to lead us to God and that we are meant to share His gifts with His children, our brothers and sisters.  Far from ‘despising the things of this world’ we should rejoice in them and give thanks.

 After describing the awesome beauty of nature Sirach, the author of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, exclaims, “We could say more but could never say enough; let the final word be: ‘He (God) is the all.’   Where can we find the strength to praise him?  For He is greater than all his works,” (Sirach 43. 27-28).

We began with Jacob’s ladder, which links the glory of heaven with the barren land in which the patriarch found himself –a wilderness made sacred by God’s presence.   The Son of God has descended that ladder; He has emptied Himself of His glory and dwelt among us. That makes our world so very much more sacred.   It’s awesome!

 As Jesus ascended the ladder of the cross -foreshadowed by Jacob’s Ladder -He has been exalted, glorified.  Not to abandon us, but to raise us up, via the ladder of the cross, to share in His glory.  Not to abandon the world He has created, but to renew heaven and earth in a new creation. 

Now everything in heaven and on earth bows down before its Lord! (cf. Phil.2.10).

Isidore Clarke, OP

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